Engaging in extreme activism in support of others’ political struggles: The role of politically motivated fusion with out-groups

Jonas Kunst, Beverly Boos, Sasha Y. Kimel, Milan Obaidi, Maor Shani, Lotte Thomsen

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Abstract

Humans are a coalitional, parochial species. Yet, extreme actions of solidarity are sometimes taken for distant or unrelated groups. What motivates people to become solidary with groups to which they do not belong originally? Here, we demonstrate that such distant solidarity can occur when the perceived treatment of an out-group clashes with one’s political beliefs (e.g., for Leftists, oppressive occupation of the out-group) and that it is driven by fusion (or a feeling of oneness) with distant others with whom one does not share any common social category such as nationality, ethnicity or religion. In Study 1, being politically Leftist predicted European-Americans’ willingness to engage in extreme protest on behalf of Palestinians, which was mediated by fusion with the out-group. Next, in Study 2, we examined whether this pattern was moderated by out-group type. Here, Norwegian Leftists fused more with Palestinians (i.e., a group that, in the Norwegian context, is perceived to be occupied in an asymmetrical conflict) rather than Kurds (i.e., a group for which this perception is less salient). In Study 3, we experimentally tested the underlying mechanism by framing the Kurdish conflict in terms of an asymmetrical occupation (vs. symmetrical war or control conditions) and found that this increased Leftist European-Americans’ fusion with Kurds. Finally, in Study 4, we used a unique sample of non-Kurdish aspiring foreign fighters who were in the process of joining the Kurdish militia YPG. Here, fusion with the out-group predicted a greater likelihood to join and support the Kurdish forces in their fight against ISIS, insofar as respondents experienced that their political orientation morally compelled them to do so (Study 4). Together, our findings suggest that politically motivated fusion with outgroups underpins the extreme solidary action people may take on behalf of distant outgroups. Implications for future theory and research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0190639
JournalPLOS ONE
Volume13
Issue1
ISSN1932-6203
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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